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A Vial of Life(A Shade of Vampire,Book 21)(10) by Bella Forrest

“I just…” Frederick hesitated, a look of concern in his eyes. “I have a very bad feeling about this. I just want to see Braithe recovered before we go near that dungeon again.”

Colin and Frederick navigated the ship away from Cruor’s shore. My eyes stung with tears as I gazed back at the beach.

Once the shoreline had faded into the distance, Frederick guided the sea creatures to a stop while Colin lowered the anchor.

We sat around a table on the upper deck in tense silence. We were all still recovering from the shock of everything we’d just been through.

As the early-morning hours approached, even though we didn’t expect Braithe’s spine to have recovered yet—in fact, we weren’t expecting it to for at least another three hours—Frederick stood up and mumbled that he was going to go check on his brother. The rest of us were too anxious not to accompany him. Leaving our seats and descending to the lower deck together, we froze on the staircase as the corridor came into view. The damaged door behind which Frederick and Colin had laid Braithe on a bed was wide open.

“Didn’t we shut that?” Arletta murmured.

“Yes. We left it shut,” Frederick answered, daring to move forward again. We reached the bottom of the stairs and peered cautiously through the door into the open room.

It was empty.

My eyes falling to the floor, I noticed clumps of honey brown hair… Braithe’s hair?

A snarl came from our right. We twisted to see… Hans? A slouching skeletal figure with thin, stark-white skin, and a nose shrunken into its face. He had the same terrifying appearance as my lover and yet he was wearing Braithe’s clothes. He was also slightly shorter than Hans.

“Braithe?” Frederick gasped.

His small, dark eyes stared back at us, expressionless. Then he began to shuffle closer toward us, slowly at first, and then picking up speed.

“Run!” Colin yelled, and even though my legs felt numb with shock, I forced myself to race up the stairs. As the five of us bundled out of the trap door leading to the upper deck, we banged it shut behind us.

Frederick swore. “That was Braithe,” he said breathlessly. “I don’t understand. How—?”

His stumbling words stopped short as the trap door beneath us shuddered. That thing—Braithe—was beginning to attack it. From the force of his blows, I couldn’t imagine that it would be more than a minute before he broke through, for it was only made of wood. Frederick and Colin scurried around the deck looking for anything movable and heavy that they could place on top of the door. Apart from the table that they turned upside down and heaved over the door, there really wasn’t much else up here that we could use.

“What is going on?” Arletta sobbed.

Wood crunched, and the whole table shifted even as the brothers strained to hold it in place. Sensing what was to come, Frederick yelled toward Arletta and me. “You two, get in the lifeboat and sail away. Hurry!”

“What about you two?” I shot back. “We can’t just leave you here!”

“Just get inside and—”

The table went flying upward, sending the two brothers crashing back. Braithe sprang from the trapdoor and scanned the deck. His eyes fell first on Frederick and then Colin. I wasn’t sure if he’d noticed Arletta and me, standing all the way on the other side of the deck, but he headed straight for his brothers. He leapt first for Colin and dug his fangs into his neck.

“No!” Arletta and I screamed.

Frederick attempted to haul Braithe off, only to find Braithe attacking him and biting his neck. Both brothers were now groaning with pain, the same deep, guttural groan that Braithe had let out after he’d been attacked by Hans back down near the chamber.

Before I could stop her, Arletta had left my side and shot forward. Grabbing a metal pole along the way, she ran toward Braithe, brandishing the weapon in front of her and waving it, as if she hoped to scare him. “Back off, Braithe!” she screamed. “Don’t do this to your brothers!”

She continued holding out the pole directly in front of her, even as Braithe whirled around and fixed his attention on his sister. Staggering forward, he launched right at her. She screamed as the pole pierced Braithe’s chest, its tip appearing through his back.

I rushed over and gazed down at Braithe falling to his knees. A thick black substance seeped from his chest, a substance that I could only assume had become his blood.

“I-I killed him!” Arletta stammered, even though she hadn’t. Braithe had killed himself. It was like he had lost his mind and run right at her, even though the sharp end of the pole had been extended in front of her.

Braithe’s hands moved to the pole in his chest, and his thin fingers closed around it. With a squelch, he yanked, sliding out the pole from his flesh and sending it skidding across the deck.

“He’s still alive,” Colin panted.

Braithe shot to his feet with alarming speed. How can this be? The pole had punctured a hole right through his chest and even through where his heart should have been. He should be a dead vampire.

Instead he just sprang up as though nothing had happened. His eyes fixed on Arletta, his almost nonexistent lips curving in a grimace. He lunged toward her. Frederick, even in his pain, managed to leap for Braithe and grab hold of his midriff before he could reach their sister. Frederick wrestled him to the ground, but Braithe caught hold of Frederick’s arm and sank his fangs in again. “Both of you, go now!” Frederick yelled. “Escape in the boat!”